Collection Spotlight: “I Teach Negro Girls” by Virginia Snitow

October 2, 2019
by Elizabeth Hyman
Virginia Snitow presenting a shofar to Barbara Walters as part of the Women’s Division, Mass Media Award, call#1432908

One of my favorite pieces from our collections is a 1942 essay originally published in the New Republic, and later reprinted in the Negro Digest by noted teacher, activist, and philanthropist, Virginia Snitow titled “I Teach Negro Girls.” In this essay, Snitow discusses the structural barriers standing between her students and success as defined by the white men in charge of designing school curricula. She addresses issues still of great concern in today’s world, such as privilege, inequality, and what it means to provide an education rooted in justice.

The essay opens: “Ten years of teaching Negro Girls in Harlem have shown me in how many ways the simple facts of democracy are perverted or forgotten. The simple truth is that for the Negro people there is little of the equality and justice which the white man assumes. Despite the enforced low standards which prevail among them, not once in ten years of teaching and observation have I found justification for any claim of white superiority.”

This is one of my favorite documents in our collections for a variety of reasons. Though we have many materials from the 1960s regarding Jewish engagement in the Civil Rights movement, this essay is unique not only in that it is speaking to civil rights concerns in the 1940s, but in that it is coming from a woman speaking forcefully in public sphere. The essay is part of a larger collection of Virginia Snitow’s writings and correspondence. The full collection, P-876, fills 18 manuscript boxes.